Memories of Terry O’Donnell

By Jim Endicott

When I joined the Peace Corps shortly after my return from Vietnam and exit as a member of the U.S. Army, I was so excited to be going to Iran that I went to the main library in downtown Tacoma, checked out a book on the Persian alphabet, and taught myself how to write and pronounce the letters prior to my arrival in Hamadan.

Looking back, Hamadan was an excellent choice to conduct the in-country training. It was somewhat isolated from a “big city” environment, and there weren’t many Iranians there at the time that spoke English, which served the staff preparing the soon-to-be Peace Corps members well. We had a lesson one day on asking questions regarding directions: how to get from here to there. Then each of the volunteers were dropped off separately on the outskirts of town and had to find our ways back home.

For me, though, the highlight of the training was a series of lectures delivered by Terry O’Donnell. Terry was leaving Iran after 15 years and this was his last activity before departing. One of his presentations was “seeing Iran through Western eyes.” The talk I remember most was about the place of drugs in the Persian culture. This talk culminated with a story about three men, one an alcohli, a second was a tariaaki (opium addict), and the third man was a hashishi. The three came upon a locked door. The first, the alcohli, wanted to break down the door to see what was on the other side. The second man, the tariaaki, after finding the door locked, wandered over to a tree and sat down to read some poetry. And then Terry paused, I suppose in an attempt to solicit a response. He may have known his audience, because it wasn’t long before anxious hands went up and voices inquired, “What about the hashishi? What about the hashishi? “Oh, yes,” Terry replied. “The hashishi wanted to fly in through the keyhole.”

Shortly thereafter, the training ended, and I had the continued fortune to be in Tehran the day before Terry left Iran for good, on his way back home to the Northwest. I was one of three or four newly trained Peace Corps members that ended up on his rooftop that last night, sharing vodka and telling stories. He talked briefly about his love of Iran and his reasons for leaving the magical place he had come to love. He was struggling with this final departure, but as the country continued to “Westernize” with the influx of petrodollars, Terry wanted to maintain his memory of Iran, untainted by the quickening pace of the changes that threatened to leave Iran unrecognizable in his mind.

Terry had some strong core beliefs. He believed that one should periodically visit the gravesites of one’s parents. He hadn’t done that in all too many years. He also believed, as he shared with us on that warm starry night on the rooftop, that one should depart this world where one began it. Maybe, in his own way, Terry was related to that Northwest icon, the salmon. May Terry O’Donnell forever rest in peace!